Captains Blackbeard, Hook and Sparrow can walk the plank - us girls really know how to splice the mainbrace! So read on, m'hearties and learn about 4 feisty female pirates...
1. Anne Bonny
Probably the most famous and fearless of all female pirates – Queen of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Anne Cormac was born in County Cork around 1700, the illegitimate daughter of a top lawyer and his family maid, Peggy. Her dad tried dressing Anne as a boy and passing her off as a distant relation but they soon moved to South Carolina.
Redhead Anne was fiery and determined – and by the age of 13 she’d murdered a servant girl – stabbing her in the belly. Why? For making her angry. Teenage temper tantrum, or what?!
At 16, Anne ‘enjoyed’ a brief marriage to James Bonny – but grew fed up with his spineless attitude, and ran off with infamous pirate John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham – and so began her pirate career. She was said to be as tough tough as any fella on board, manning the ship, drinking and swearing with the best of ’em.
In 1720, pirate-hunters tracked down Rackham’s boat off the coast of Jamaica. But while wimpy Calico Jack and the boys cowered below deck and got drunk, Bonny and her fellow female shipmate Mary Reid (see below) stayed up on deck fighting.
Eventually the crew were captured and, in one of the most famous pirate quotes of all time, Bonny scolded an imprisoned Rackham, ‘I’m sorry to see you here, but if you’d fought like a man you need not have hanged like a dog.’ That told him!
Bonny and Read were themselves sentenced to hang, but – being pregnant – had their death sentences commuted. While Read died in prison, Bonny survived. But no-one knows for sure what became of her and her child…
So could the Pirate Queen’s descendants still be out there..?
2. Mary Read
It all sounds a bit familiar… Mary Read was born around 1700, illegitimate, and spent her younger years dressed up as a boy.
So used to wearing the trousers was she that, after working as a footboy and getting a job on a ship, she joined the British military – and, boy, did she prove herself in battle?!
There followed a brief period where Mary wore frocks! She’d fallen for a Flemish soldier, they married, and together they opened a pub in Holland called The Three Horseshoes.
Still, when her old man died, Read was back dressed as a fella and boarded a ship bound for the West Indies. It’s there that she met up with Anne Bonny and co – and tales abound of her pirate career, comprising of fierce fighting and hearty love affairs – including, it’s thought, a fling with Bonny…
Sadly, when their ship was eventually captured, Mary Read was never to taste freedom again – dying of fever in prison, along with her unborn child.
3. Ching Shih
Born around 1775, Ching Shih was a Chinese prostitute who married a pirate and rose to prominence after he died. Well, he’d served his purpose…
Regarded as one of the most powerful pirates in history, she went on to command her husband’s collection of ships. While the fleet she inherited was already big, she increased the number of craft and crew – at its height, her fleet was 1,500 ships and 80,000 sailors.
Ching Shih and her Red Flag Fleet controlled most of the South China Sea and, for years, the British, Chinese and Portuguese navies couldn’t defeat her.
Eventually, in 1810, China offered Ching Shih peace. She and her remaining 200 ships pulled into port once last time and were allowed to keep their plunder and retire to quiet lives in the Chinese countryside. Well, we say ‘quiet’ but female pirates are never the type to take it easy… Ching lived to the ripe old age of 69, spending her days running a brothel and casino.
4. Sadie The Goat
Born in 1869, American river pirate Sadie Farrell earned her nickname because, in her early mugging career on the badass streets of New York, she’d headbutt her victims like a goat! It’s said Sadie was chased out of Manhattan when a fellow female tough-girl, Gallus Mag, brawled with her and bit off Sadie’s ear. Now, that’s going to leave a nasty taste in anyone’s mouth…
To flee the city, Sadie gathered a gang and stole a sloop. With a Jolly Roger fluttering above them, Sadie and her crew became pirates sweeping the Hudson and Harlem Rivers for booty. She’d lead raids on the farmhouses and posh mansions that dotted the riverside, occasionally kidnapping folks for ransom.
When our goat girl finally returned to the mainland, she made peace with Gallus Mag (us girls never fall out for long!), who returned to Sadie her lost ear, which she’d kept pickled!
Known now as ‘Queen of the Waterfront’, Sadie popped her dismembered lobe in a locket, and she wore it around her neck for the rest of her days. So ears to Sadie and her other pirate pals!
And finally, a joke for fellow feisty female pirates…
Q. What would no self-respecting pirate never be seen without?